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Should Liverpool Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet Be Belgium No. 1 for World Cup?

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet of Liverpool directs his defence during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on December 29, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Matt LadsonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014

A spat has emerged between the two contenders to be Belgium's No. 1 goalkeeper at this summer's World Cup—Liverpool's Simon Mignolet and Atletico Madrid's on-loan Thibaut Courtois.

Courtois, who is in his third season on loan to the Spanish side from Chelsea, has reiterated his opinion that Mignolet showed disrespect to him.

Numerous media outlets carry the quotes from Courtois that originated from Sport/Foot Magazine. "If someone says that he is unfairly left out of the Red Devils' goal, I see that as an attack," via The Express.

Courtois is quoted earlier this month saying:

In Spain, I hear no goalkeeper saying they're aiming for the place of Casillas.

Not De Gea, not Valdes, not Reina. It's the opposite - they back Casillas.

Simon can say whatever he wants, but I think I've already saved enough points for Belgium and I'm playing good games for Atletico. He has to stay humble and respectful.

Bizarrely, no media outlet has actually published the supposed quotes from Mignolet questioning manager Marc Wilmots.

The comments by Courtois have been met with criticism at his seeming arrogance, as per Squawka's Sam Long:

Courtois has come across as somewhat arrogant, given that 25 year-old Mignolet is more than entitled to strive towards the number one jersey. Competition is positive for goalkeepers but Courtois seems to be resting on his laurels very early in his career, despite keepers having just 14 caps apiece, so he is not an automatic choice just yet.

Regardless, the two shot-stoppers clearly have an intense rivalry and both have their eye on being Wilmot's preferred man this summer at the World Cup. So who should get the nod?

Courtois having another go at Mignolet. He sounds like a spoilt little brat, I suppose that what happens when you join Chelsea.

MrBoywunder (@MrBoywunder) February 19, 2014

  

Mignolet

The 25-year-old has had a mixed start to his first season at Liverpool, from the highs of the opening-day penalty save against Stoke to the lows of mistakes in quick succession against Man City, Chelsea, Aston Villa and West Brom.

Jon Super/Associated Press

However, such is the life of a goalkeeper; while many will remember the mistakes he's made, Mignolet has also made some top-class saves. He made an error against Chelsea but also produced a fine stop of Frank Lampard that few remember.

Mind you, Mignolet is not alone in making individual errors at Liverpool this season, as explained by Opta stats:

29 - Liverpool have made more defensive errors leading to a goal/attempt than any other team in the PL this season. Problem.

OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 2, 2014

Can his errors be partly apportioned to mitigating circumstances such as the requested style of play at his new club and under a new manager? The Belgian is yet to look comfortable when playing out from the back and has had a very unsettled back four in front of him.

 

Courtois

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 19:  Thibaut Courtois of Club Atletico de Madrid looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between AC Milan and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 19, 2014 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Ma
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

The 21-year-old is the man currently in possession of the national team's goalkeeper jersey, having kept six clean sheets throughout the qualifying campaign for this summer’s tournament in Brazil.

Atletico are currently flying high under coach Diego Simeone, joint top of La Liga at the moment and having secured a first-leg lead in their Champions League match with AC Milan.

Courtois is certainly benefitting from regular football that he wouldn't get at Chelsea and from playing in the Champions League—something that Mignolet is yet to experience.

 

Comparison

Using Squawka's comparison matrix we can see how the two match up this season for their respective teams.

 MignoletCourtois
Clean Sheets712
Total Saves5736
Saves Per Goal1.972.77
Distribution Accuracy68%63%
Distribution Length (Ave)26m52m

At first glance, the stats show them as being fairly evenly matched—Mignolet coming out the better in two key areas (total saves and distribution accuracy).

However, add qualitative analysis to the stats and Courtois is by far the winner.

Mignolet's slightly superior distribution statistic is mitigated by the far shorter average distribution length—shorter passes out from the back being far easier to get accurate than longer ones into the opponents' half.

While Mignolet's total saves, perhaps due in part to the openness of Liverpool's play at times this season, is offset by a far lower saves per goal ratio that shows that Courtois actually makes more saves to shots than Mignolet.

Courtois, therefore, is seemingly in much better form that Mignolet.

Perhaps the only thing Courtois doesn't have is the level head that Mignolet has. A goalkeeper needs self-confidence, but that can soon become arrogance.

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